Associated Press

Jazz’s Alec Burks getting back to his dynamic ways

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Jazz wing Alec Burks is nearly healthy after two-plus years of injuries and he has started to look like the player Utah signed to a four-year, $42 million extension in 2014.

Burks has scored in double digits in five straight games, including a season-high 15 Saturday against the Grizzlies. He’s shown flashes of that unique athletic ability around the rim and shot an efficient 60.5 percent during this stretch.

To the delight of coach Quin Snyder, Burks has also played well on the defensive end and is being used in a three-wing lineup without a point guard.

“It’s a different lineup,” Snyder said Monday. “I like the efficiency. What Alec does for us, he comes in and gives us a boost off the bench. I think he’s done a very good job defending the ball. That’s also a point of emphasis. If we can defend the ball with his size and athleticism, that can be a strength and an important thing for us.”

It’s taken a while for Burks to get back to this point.

Burks missed 50 games with a fractured left fibula last season and returned, possibly too early, to play three of the final four games of the 2015-16 season. He then missed the first 34 games of this season dealing with ankle issues, including arthroscopic surgery and rehab from left ankle debridement.

Snyder and Burks said it’s just a matter of time before he’s fully back from the ankle surgery in November. Now he needs on-court time to get his timing back and to get used to teammates who joined the franchise during the summer. The team even assigned him to the D-League Salt Lake City Stars for a practice and game.

“I think I’m taking a step every game,” Burks said. “I don’t think I’m all the way back yet to where I was preinjury. But that’s a long process and I’ll get there. I’m making some passes I’m not used to making. Turnovers. Just the overall comfort with my teammates, chemistry because you know we’ve got new teammates. … It’s great. With the type of injury I had, you never know if you’re going to be back to who you were before the injury. It’s great to see that I’m close to where I was.”

Burks said that’s why it took him so long to return. He’s an above-the-rim player near the basket and they wanted to make sure the leg was stable after missing those 50 games last season.

Those flashy midair moments are what let everyone know Burks is nearly back to his normal self, but those moments can also get him in trouble with turnovers or bad shot attempts.

“Sometimes when he’s under control, he doesn’t look it because he’s so dynamic,” Snyder said. “There’s no question there’s been times where we’d like the degree of difficulty to be a little bit less with some of the things he does. But he is who he is, too, and he’s effective.

“You don’t want to change something that’s a strength. You want to kind of mold it and modify it. I think he’s continuing to understand how he can best be effective.”

Burks laughed when asked about that unique style of play. He acknowledged he’s still working off some rust and said he’ll improve from a five-turnover game in the loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday.

“(General manager) Dennis (Lindsey), Quin, everybody’s on me about my finishing,” Burks said. “But that’s what everybody likes me doing. I’m trying to simplify as much as I can, but I just react off of instinct.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Jazz continue to work on Derrick Favors‘ health. He missed 13 games with a left knee bone contusion in November and December and hasn’t shown the light-footed athleticism that made him one of the league’s better big men last season. The Jazz held Favors out to rest Saturday and he didn’t participate in the contact portion of practice Monday.

Snyder didn’t know if Favors would ever be completely healthy this season.

“It’s hard to define 100 percent,” Snyder said. “I’m not 100 percent of what I was. He’s approaching that, absolutely. It’s just a process for him. A lot of that just comes through having a chance to be out there and be healthy and continue to play. Even though you physically feel great, now you’re kind of weaving in the skills and the timing and all those things. My hope is yes, and he’s pretty close right now.”

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.